Every day it seems we hear phrases like: “this stretch is great for increasing mobility” or “this exercise is great for hip stability”. What does it all mean? What is mobility or stability anyway? What’s the difference and why do I care?
All these questions and more can be understood by knowing a couple basics of how our central nervous system works and some other easy definitions.
First let’s tackle mobility. Mobility is one of the more commonly known terms and is often in reference to how much motion a particular joint possesses. Picturing a person who has a lot of mobility, we often think about people who perform regular yoga exercise. In other words, people who are extremely flexible are thought to have a high level of joint mobility. This is true, but is only half of the picture. Even though joint mobility can be a good thing, in isolation it can be something that actually causes pain. To avoid this, we need to dive deeper into the other key player called stability.
For stability, it can be a little bit more difficult to nail down a specific definition. It is common for the word stability to have a variety of meanings from person to person. The closest agreed definition for “stability” is used in conjunction with muscular stiffness or how much “motor control” a person has (the ability to actively move a part of your body through a range of motion). Without going too much in the weeds, we must know a little more about this thing called motor control (neuro-muscular control).
Neuro-muscular control is a fancy name for how our central nervous system can control the level of tension that our muscles possess at any given time. Our body has a generalized sense of where our body is in space at all times. Joints need a certain about of muscular tension around them while they are in any given position for protection and strength. This muscular tension created by the central nervous system is called stability. So, in short, neuro-muscular control governs the amount of muscle tension around a joint for better protection and stability.
Just as we saw with mobility the body can also have too much stability. This is often experienced as having chronic back stiffness or “tight hips”. This is the central nervous system’s answer to protect the area by increasing stability and restricting the range of motion. This absence of motor control is often corrected through the central nervous system by an increase in stiffness.
Through specific exercises and varied movement patterns, we can train the central nervous system to have motor control through those trained ranges. This way we can improve mobility and stability at the same time in a way for it to stick around. This method is much more effective compared to a static stretch or isometric hold.
Mobility and stability, two sides of the same coin. It is not optimal to have too much of either one, but a healthy mix of both. Linked below are a few good examples from excellent trainers who are putting these concepts into action. Also, check out Summit Active Care for more rehab-based videos that bring mobility and stability into practice.